Invaluable

Summary:

"I'd go as far as to say you are an invaluable part of the team." Words spoken with affection, and heard with hope. August 1942, after Bad Blood (S4E2).

Disclaimer:

The creative rights to the characters and plotlines in "Foyle's War" belong to Anthony Horowitz. This story is a not-for-profit homage to the television series, to the talented actors who bring its characters to life, and to a fascinating era.


Author's Notes:

The pain in Foyle's eyes when he sees Sam ill in hospital can only ever mean one thing to me.

...

Lovingly beta'd and improved by dancesabove.


Invaluable

"But no, really, I've been thinking. About whether..."

"Crossroads?" Foyle wonders.

"Yes, Sir. That's right." Sam's fingers pluck nervously at the bed covers. "Would you say I'm sort of... quite a useful sort of person to have on the team, Sir?"

"I would."

"Would you?" Her face betrays delight.

"Yes. I'd go so far as to say you're an invaluable part of the team." Foyle twinkles at her, lips turned down. "Mmm hmmm. Invaluable, I'd say."

He settles back into his chair, turns lazy eyes to study the effect on Sam, and notes her pleased-as-punch smile. He'd rather like to be the cause of more pleasure, and so he cants his head, and adds, "Can't go anywhere without you."

Sam's eyes are closed, her cheeks flushed pink with pride, and now, suddenly—here's his reward—she breaks into a beam of happiness, and squirms, ever so slightly, underneath the sheets.

"Oh, jolly good."

Like tickling a child, thinks Foyle. He's managed it: he's hauled her out of danger, and now she's scrambling back to sunniness again—his never-ending fount of optimism. Invaluable Sam.

"When do they let you out of here?"

"Tomorrow, Sir."

"Then what?"

"Can I come back to work?" She half sits up, and twists towards him, hopefully.

He isn't falling for it; folds his arms. "Wull, I dunno. What do the doctors say?"

Sam mumbles something indistinct.

"What... sorry? Didn't hear that, Sam." He cocks his head and leans in.

"Says I've got to rest and build my strength up." Her tone is plaintive, bordering on resentful.

"In which case, I'd say the answer's... nnno."

Her mouth turns down. It's definitely not a smile. She sighs, and starts examining her fingernails.

After a moment, her eyes creep sideways, artfully.

"I'd say: 'some good snatching me from the jaws of death, then leaving me to die of boredom'. That's what I'd say."

She pouts, then adds a small huff, for effect.

Foyle's eyes narrow. Ohoho, she's good! He wonders why it is that Sam's so good at running rings around him, but tiptoes round her father? After all, he's close enough to Iain Stewart's age. And who's the boss here, anyway?

"You won't be bored," he counters. "Light duties round the house for—what's she called, your landlady...?"

"Meri. Mrs Merivale," Sam mumbles, grudgingly.

"Right." He plants both hands on his knees and pushes himself up. "Tomorrow, then. I'll see that you're picked up and driven home."

She doesn't answer, so he tries again.

"Twelve o'clock suit you? Doctors done their rounds by then?"

Sam gnaws her lip; looks down; won't meet his eyes. She gives a single, silent, disappointed nod.

"'Bye then, Sam. For now."

Foyle settles his hat on his head, and waits for some acknowledgement. Might there be a smile? No? Oh, well. He turns and starts to walk away, but barely has he taken three steps when she calls him back. Her tone is anxious; needy.

"Sir?"

Foyle swivels on his toe. In two quick strides he's back beside the bed.

"What is it, Sam?"

"Um... just to say..." Sam swallows. "Thank you. Thank you, Sir, for absolutely everything." Shamefaced, she reaches up and grasps his fingertips.

Foyle frowns down on their joined hands. The slender fingers clinging to his own have always struck him as immensely delicate. Solemnly, he strokes his thumb the merest inch across the flesh between her thumb and finger. Then he squeezes once, and lets the small hand go.

"Twelve o'clock tomorrow," he reassures her.

As he turns and leaves the ward, Sam's eyes trail after him.

...

Foyle helps Sam down the front steps of the hospital. The first thing she notices is that no one is standing by the Wolseley. She peers round, trying to catch sight of Brooke, but thinks better of it when a touch of vertigo sets in. At all events, their driver's nowhere to be seen.

"Has Sergeant Brooke just nipped indoors, Sir?"

"Nnnup." Foyle unlocks the front passenger door and holds it open for her.

"Oh." She looks at him, bewildered. "Wouldn't you prefer to sit in the front with him?"

"No Brooke today."

If Foyle sees Sam's surprise, he gives no sign. He waits for her to seat herself, then walks around the front of the car and climbs behind the wheel.

An open-mouthed Sam watches as his left hand reaches out to turn the key in the ignition. Foyle throws the brass knob of the Wolseley gearstick forwards, lets the clutch out smoothly and pulls away.

Dumbfounded, Sam observes him confidently grasp the gear stick; notices the way his starched cuff bounces back and forth along his wrist as he moves effortlessly up the gears.

She swallows. She can feel the surge of upset rising in her throat; mortification prickles round her ears. Tears start to well. Sam blinks them back determinedly and finds her voice.

"But you... you can't... How come?" She looks at him accusingly. "You said that I was indispensable."

His brows arch as he steers the car along the sweeping gravel drive. "Nunno, Sam. No one's indispensable. Not you; not me; not anyone."

"You never told me you could drive!"

"You never asked. In any case, as I recall, I said you were invaluable." Eyes twinkling, he flashes her a crooked smile. "And meant it, too."

Sam's stomach flips. She reads his mischief. Clearly he's enjoyed astounding her. And now that she thinks it over, the very fact that he's kept her on, when he could easily have let her go is... strange... and tantalising. Face pink with pleasure suddenly, she breaks into a grin.

"Well..." she bounces in her seat, "in that case, I think it's better that I go straight through the crossroads, and don't take any turns at all!"

"Right. Wull, I'm pleased." Foyle gives the windscreen an inverted smile and swings the Wolseley expertly onto the road. "But don't forget to check for transverse traffic as you're driving through."

As he accelerates, Sam fancies that—Good Lord! He isn't. Yes he is. He's laughing silently!

They reach her digs, and Sam goes hunting for the spare key Meri hides beneath a pot of rosemary. The house feels like a vault inside: dark, curtains drawn. Foyle frowns. It seems... unoccupied.

"Your landlady... she's out, then?"

"No... well, yes..." Sam falters; bends to pick the pile of post up off the mat. "Actually—" she straightens, feels her balance going, reaches for the wall— "before I, um, fell ill, Meri had already gone off to her daughter Angela's in Islington. I imagine she'll be gone another week at least."

Foyle pivots, sweeping his palm round in an arc to indicate the house. "You're telling me you'll be here on your own?"

"I'll be all r—"

"Nunno. Won't hear of it. You're coming home with me."

She feels a guiding hand pressed lightly to her back. Next instant, she's outside again, the door pulled shut behind them, and he's off around the corner, with her case in hand, to slip the key back underneath the plant pot.

Sam shivers slightly as she's waiting, but the weather's far from cold. His face looks rather stern when he returns. Is he annoyed?

"No arguments," he tells her, and she wonders why on earth he should imagine that she'd argue. "Nnnot as if we haven't been this route before," he adds, as if she's offered an objection. "Andrew's room has hardly been disturbed since you occupied it," he gives her an arch look, "you'll be relieved to know."

Sam chuckles. It's two years exactly since she was bombed out, and her boss made her the offer of a room until she found fresh digs. The chaos when she moved in! All the stuff from Andrew's interrupted university career dumped in hasty piles around his room. She'd had to introduce some order before camping out. At least, if what he says is true, she won't have to do all that again.

Back at Steep Lane, Foyle ushers her into the living room and lights the fire.

"Spot of lunch, Sam?"

"Ooh, yes, please, Sir." She makes to rise, but he waves her back into her seat, conveys her case upstairs, and makes her tea and sandwiches, which he brings in on a tray.

"Eat. Then rest. I'll see you later."

He's putting on his hat and coat when he remembers. "Sam,"—he saunters back into the living room. "Um, Sam, you're going to ring your parents, aren't you? Tell them where you are?"

Sam's mouth is wrapped around a sandwich, so she quickly forces down the mouthful, coughs into her fist, and shakes her head with vigour.

"Not on your Nellie, Sir. You really think I'm going to tell my father I've had anthrax? He'd be here faster than you can say 'Jack Robinson', dragging me off home."

Foyle's eyebrow arches. "Well, sorry to disappoint you, but I couldn't leave your parents in total ignorance. I drove out there to see them on your second day of treatment, just as soon as I could reassure them you were going to be all right."

"Oh." She hangs her head. If that's the case, she sulks, it's only a matter of time before Father comes to fetch me.

"BUT they're under the impression you're recovering from pneumonia. So, if you don't mind," he sends her a meaningful look, which she translates as an order, "telephone your parents. Tell them how you are and where you are."

In other words, he wants her stay with him to be above-board and above reproach. How jolly disappointing, she thinks naughtily, and nods.

"All right, Sir."

Then he's gone. She finishes her lunch, and takes herself into the hall to have the tricky conversation with her father. As luck will have it, it's her mother who picks up the phone, and Sam does a beautiful impression of her normal, chipper self, failing to mention where she's staying, and promising to write at the weekend, because she's frightfully busy getting back into the swing of things at work. She even manages a verse of "All Things Bright and Beautiful" to illustrate she has her lung power back.

Afterwards, she stretches out full-length on the settee beneath a tartan rug that smells of books and leather... and a little bit of him. She pulls it right up to her nose and breathes in deeply.

When she wakes, Mr Foyle is standing over her in shirtsleeves. Clearly he's been back some time. So how long has she slept, she wonders? He must have crept in, surely? Sam does a rigid body-stretch beneath the blanket.

"Sorry about that, Sir. Hospital is not the sort of place where you can sleep very well. Too much is going on around you, even in the night. And people who are ill aren't quiet."

"I know." he says. "Absolutely no need to apologise. You must've been exhausted. I'll stoke the fire."

He stoops and grasps the fire iron, poking at the spent coals before throwing on a shovelful of precious anthracite to build a warmer blaze. They shouldn't need it, but it's been an awful bloody summer, one way and another.

Feeling the urgent need to pee that tends to hit a person who's been full of tea since lunchtime, Sam gets up faster than she should have done, and sees the world go black before her eyes. She sways. The clatter of a poker falling on the hearth tiles reaches her as if from a distance. When her vision clears, concerned blue eyes are staring into hers, and Mr Foyle has got her by the shoulders.

"Steady, Sam. I'll take you where you need to go."

She tries her utmost not to blush. It's stupid. They're both adults, and it's not as if he thinks that ladies don't. He steers her to the stairs, and though he doesn't touch her as she climbs, she can detect the warmth of him an inch or two behind her, staying very close in case she falls.

"Well done," he tells her kindly at the bathroom door. Because he doesn't want Sam to be nervous that he's listening outside, he adds, "I'll only be across the landing. Call me if you're stuck for anything. Um... wwwouldn't lock the door, if I were you."

Sam nods and turns, but Foyle cuts in. "You might need these." He pulls a towel and flannel from the airing cupboard, and presses them into her hand.

Sam takes them shyly, hoping against hope she won't be "stuck for anything". Moments later, though, she knows she isn't going to get away with it. The bathroom starts to swim around her while she's sitting on the pan. It's as the doctor warned her: vertigo might be a side effect of all that strepto-stuff they've pumped inside her. Sure enough, the world's revolving, and she's got a ringing in her ears as well.

Simultaneously wincing and sighing, she somehow manages to finish and drapes her pleated skirt about her for as much modesty as she can. Then she calls out, weakly, "Sir?"

The thump of footfalls on the landing tells her that he's hurrying. Before she can look up, he's standing on the chequered tiles in front of her, his face a picture of concern.

"Tell me what you need, Sam."

"Could you help me?" There's a tremor in her voice. "Really think I might be better horizontal." No sooner have the words left Sam's mouth, when the double meaning hits her, and she blushes furiously. Her heart sinks at the fact that he'll have to help her pull her knickers up, and that will be the first time he…

Foyle's tone, however is merely practical; relieved.

"Good idea."

Kneeling before her, he gently takes hold of the sides of the underwear bunched at her ankles. As he draws it upward along her calves and rises to help her stand, an image of helping a barely functioning Rosalind with even more intimate matters flashes through his brain. To distract the mortified Sam, he teases her, "Black-market silk, Sam? Hardly standard issue…" He tries to quell the image of her svelte little body in such garments, and steadies her by the arms while she completes the pulling-up. She is helped by the lightness of his manner, and manages a shy, "Very old, Sir. Present from my mother when I left school."

He keeps his eyes on her face as she completes the task, then smiles at her encouragingly. She marvels at his matter-of-factness, and yet senses that it is not without that warm affection she has felt from him during her illness.

Again she feels his shepherding hand on her shoulder blade. "Let's go."

He helps her into Andrew's room and sits her in a Lloyd Loom chair while he pulls back the covers on the bed.

"Shoes off. Climb in. Never mind your clothes."

She hangs her head. "I'm sorry for the trouble, Sir. I would've been all right at home. I would've managed somehow."

He stoops in front of her. "Don't want to hear it. Tell me what you think's the matter with you, Sam. Should I be telephoning the hospital?"

It's strange, she thinks, that, knowing what he knows about her illness, he'll risk getting this close. His face is only inches from her own. The nearness of him is almost too tempting to resist... if she could just—

Sam swallows, takes a deep breath. "Actually, Sir, it's the medicine they've given me. Until it wears off, I was told I might feel dizzy. Thought I'd be all right, but I've been lying down a lot in hospital. It hasn't really hit me till today."

Foyle mulls that over, giving her a penetrating look until the explanation satisfies him. "Well... that's fine, then. Puts my mind at rest. And resting is precisely what you'll do until the dizziness is gone."

He helps her up, and seats her safely on the bed, then watches while she slips her legs under the covers and lies flat.

"Better?" he asks.

"Mmm. Thank you, Sir." She smiles up at him bravely. "What a shame that Andrew hasn't painted Spitfires on the ceiling!"

His eyes skim the surface in question. "Wull, if he had, they wouldn't be identifiable. His mother's talent with a paintbrush passed him by."

Sam chuckles in contentment, and Foyle parks his hands inside his trouser pockets, wondering aloud what a poorly Sam might tolerate for dinner.

"Oh, my appetite's all right," she shoots back, quick as lightning.

"Mmmight have guessed as much." He gives what Sam is apt to call his melting smile—the level, closed-mouthed one where his eyes crinkle at the corners.

When he leaves the room, Sam grins up at the empty ceiling, feeling so absurdly happy she could cry.

...

Next day, at half past eight, Foyle taps quietly on her bedroom door, and waits for a "Come in!" to stick his head around and ask her how she feels. She gives him a sleepy grin from under covers pulled up to her neck, and tells him that she's slept well—which is true—and that she isn't feeling dizzy—yet!

"Immensely pleased to hear it."

He's wearing the soft wool waistcoat that Sam recognises as his 'at home' garb, and she thinks he's looking appetising. But while she's still enjoying her early morning sight of Mr Foyle, the doorbell rings.

"Excuse me for a moment, Sam,"—and Sam is slightly puzzled. Isn't he going to work? She strains to hear the sound of voices in the hall downstairs, and one of them is Sergeant Brooke's.

After a while, the front door closes, followed by familiar footsteps on the stairs, and then, outside, the stuttering of a car ignition as the Wolseley's engine springs to life. She realises with a start that Brooke is driving off without her boss.

A light knock on her door, and Mr Foyle has one foot in her room again, still wearing his 'at homes'.

"You're not going to work, Sir?"

"Em... nno. Got reports to write. Brooke brought the paperwork and took the car. They all know where to find me if they need me. Concentrate on feeling better."

Guilt at keeping him from work takes hold of her.

"Sir... you really shouldn't stay because of me."

He waves away her worry. "Might occur to you that I enjoy the peace and quiet of home, occasionally. It helps my—ah—my focus."

Sam blushes, recognising flannel when she hears it. "Thank you. Honestly, I don't know what to say..."

"Well, now... a speechless Sam." He lingers deadpan, waiting for the grin. Before long, she repays him with a full-beam smile.

"Right, then. Breakfast in the kitchen when you're ready. Don't..." he pauses with 'the piercing look', to drive home his point, "attempt the stairs if you feel dizzy. Call for me."

Call for me. The intonation sends a frisson down her spine. Sam practises the phrase a dozen times after he's gone. She practises again inside the bathroom, miming to the mirror. How should she call for him? Sir? Mr Foyle? She screws her eyes tight—Chris-to-pher! —and imagines him running to her aid, all puckered brows and anxious, sweet blue eyes...

...

Breakfast. And Sam can't recall the last time she was treated to not one boiled egg, but two. He claims he has a neighbour who keeps chickens. Sam doesn't think she's heard a cockerel, and wonders whether hens will lay without one. It seems rather indelicate to ask. Anyway, she eats the eggs and savours the idea he might have given her his precious ration. She speculates what else he'll give her if she's good; then muses naughtily on ways she might repay him—none of which are strictly proper. Catching herself grinning at her plate, she has to halt the train of thought.

When Mr Foyle begins to clear the table, Sam gets up—carefully, so as not to aggravate her shaky sense of balance—and stays him with a hand placed lightly on his rolled-up shirtsleeve. For a brief, delightful moment, she can feel the soft hairs of his forearm underneath her fingers.

"Please let me do that, Sir. I need to build my strength up somehow."

He squints one eye. "You sure, now?"

"Mmm!" she nods, and slowly, slowly, lifts her hand away. "I promise not to drop the crockery."

"Well, thank you, Sam." And thank you for your touch. And for the lovely smile across my breakfast table.

She watches as he rolls down his sleeves, trying not to lick her lips. She keeps on watching as he hooks the cufflinks from his waistcoat pocket and slips them deftly through the French cuffs of his shirt. And she's watching still, as he withdraws into the dining room. Soon she can hear the clack of typewriter keys. It's one of the most comforting sounds she can imagine.

She finishes the chores and quietly settles with a novel in the living room. Every few minutes, the temptation becoming too much, she raises her eyes, ever so surreptitiously. Once or twice he catches her observing him, and smiles.

He works, she reads, till lunchtime. Sam is stretched out, ankles crossed, on the settee. Apart from when the telephone rings (twice), he barely moves out of his chair, engrossed in what he's typing. Sam can only guess at the tension building in his shoulders.

By the time he rises, rolling his head and stretching, Sam is longing to massage the aching muscles at the roots of his broad shoulders. The very thought of how that might feel for them both sets her pulse racing. Sensing that her cheeks are flushed, she buries her nose deep inside her book, but her concentration is completely ruined.

Sam feels strong enough to prepare their lunch, and as they eat, perched side by side on the settee, she feels she wants to tell him more about the crossroads.

"So, you see, Sir, it's like this..." She fiddles with the button of her grey-blue cardigan. "Joe—Private Farnetti—asked me to marry him."

"Yep. So he told me." Foyle lifts the corner of his sandwich and inspects the contents critically before taking a bite.

"Told you?" Sam twists to find him separating the two halves of buttered bread to lay bare the meagre filling.

"Shortly after he assured me that his intentions toward you were entirely honourable." He calmly sprinkles salt onto the slices of tomato.

Sam gapes. "You asked?"

Foyle turns to face her. "Salt?"

Perplexed, she waves the salt away distractedly. "You asked?"

He puts the salt down. "Not at all. For some reason, hhhe felt... that I had a right to know."

Sam's eyes have grown to saucers, and her heart is in her throat.

"I felt I didn't." He gives her a pointed look.

She colours; swallows; looks down at her lap. "Oh. You weren't interested, Sir. I'm sorry."

"Nnnot what I said."

Sam's head snaps round again. "You were interested?"

"Had no right to be." This time, it's his turn to avoid her eyes.

"And... if... I'd rather... that you were... ?"

"Still have no right."

"Can't I be the judge of that?"

An eyebrow crooks. "Unwise."

"Why?"

"Wull, I'm your boss."

"If I resigned?"

"Oh now, Sam, don't be s—"

"Just watch me." Sam stands, and her heart is thudding in her chest so fast that she feels light-headed; sways.

Faster than she's ever seen him move, he's up, encouraging her back towards her seat, his hand under her elbow.

"Sit down. This is no time for rash decisions."

Sam proves him wrong when she ignores his order and turns to press herself flush against his body, one arm stealing round his waist.

"I. Resign," she breathes, and lays her head on his shoulder.

Her other hand slides up his chest, and is about to make a play for his cheek when his larger hand closes over hers and pins it flat against his shoulder.

"Can't allow you to do this."

Sam sighs contentedly, manoeuvring herself closer. She finds his natural scent intoxicating, and her fingers at his back are clinging tightly to the woollen waistcoat.

"Weren't you listening? I just resigned. You're not my boss now, Mr Foyle. And if you kiss me, you'll be Christopher."

"If I kiss you, I'll be a disgrace. Y-you want to be kissed by a man like that?"

"No. I want to be kissed by a man like you. And if you think that clever words are going to put me off, you're absolutely barking up the wrong tree."

Foyle's gallows humour kicks in. "Barking up the wrong tree, Sam, or simply barking?"

Sam glares at him. "Ker-ristopher!" she huffs, and presses lips defiantly against his smirk. When he doesn't pull away, the challenge in her gaze turns into triumph.

Foyle's tongue creeps up over his top lip, his eyelids slowly closing. These seconds are quite crowded, actually. His age; her age; his duty; her quite obviously misguided admiration for him; his inappropriate affection for her; her gung-ho determination; his habit of denying himself emotional attachments; her eagerness; his reticence; her loveliness; his unwise appreciation of it; her sunny and infectious cheeriness; his reserve; her eyes; her cheeky smile; her humour and her fortitude; her quirky and amusing insights; her sweet company. All invaluable qualities.

He feels Sam's head creep underneath his chin, and takes an extra second to revisit how he felt when he discovered Sam had anthrax and might die. He sees himself now, as if at a remove, eliminating barriers, rattling establishments, ignoring vetoes, and demanding—coldly threatening, even—action; all the steps he took to secure a remedy for Sam. Because he couldn't bear to see her young life snuffed out, yes. But more importantly, because he couldn't bear—he couldn't bear—to lose her. 'Selfless' his campaign for Sam had not been. Not by any means.

Even as the abacus inside his brain is totting up the evidence, somewhere in the depths of Foyle, a seismic shift occurs, and cracks appear along the dam of his reserve. The slender body pressed to his is one that he's admired too often, albeit through hooded eyes whilst trying to convince himself that the appeal is artistic and disinterested. The lips that have just kissed his own are even softer than he has imagined—oh, and he's imagined them too many times in fervid dreams that wake him, sweating, in the small hours. But he knows well enough how ripe a breeding ground for fear and fantasy is the dark of night. Here and now, it's daylight, and Samantha Stewart is asking him to break the rules, and turn a dream into reality.

Foyle's thinking interlude is up. There's no more hiding behind half-mast eyelids. Now's the time for a decision.

If you can call it one. Every day he juggles intellect and instinct; logic and emotion; and he likes to think emotion doesn't cloud his judgement in the job. He looks down on the soft blond waves pressed to his chin, and wonders where and how the rules apply to this. A sad smile flits across his face as he replays her silly resignation. Only Sam could think that things would be that simple. He knows that you can't lay judgement to one side, the way you can a job. And judgement in this matter rests with him.

But if he's honest, and he looks back on their conversation, he can see he opened himself up for this. He couldn't bring himself to lie, and let her think he didn't care. By opening the merest chink, he left himself wide open to the force and eagerness of youth. Sam sped straight through the crevice like an arrow, piercing home.

So now he's got her, clinging to—if not embedded in—his chest. And something in him knows that she is what he has wanted all along. She's made the leap into his arms (the arms that haven't wrapped themselves around her yet), and it's a leap of faith. So, now, the only kind thing is to give her back the honesty she's given him, and see to it she doesn't end up hurt. And if he takes this step, there'll be no going back. From now on, it will be whatever Sam wants, and he'll have to bear the consequences on himself. He hopes to God it's more than just infatuation on her part. The dam, once breached, won't lend itself to restoration.

"You win," he sighs, and with the breath expelled, compunction vanishes. Releasing her hand from his own, he elevates her chin with gentle fingers so that he can brush his lips on hers. His other arm wraps round her, locking her against him.

Sam gasps. Clinging tightly to each stolen second of embrace, she has half expected to be pushed away; but now she's being held so close, there's nothing left to the imagination. Her legs begin to shake against the sturdy proof that her suspicions were correct. Sir is aroused.

"Is this what you want?" His voice is barely louder than a whisper. "Sam?"

His kiss is soft and undemanding, belying what his lower body tells her. Now she strokes his cheeks, bestows a kiss of pleading gentleness that melts his heart. Sam cants her head, and gives a slow inquiring lick along his lower lip.

In answer, Foyle's palm cradles the warm softness of her scalp, his fingers carding through her hair. He takes control of the embrace and folds her to him with a silent force and strength that fills her senses.

Just when Sam thinks that her legs are going to give, he plants her firmly on her feet and pulls away.

"Come on, then."

It's the merest breath of invitation. And before there's time to ask where to, he turns her gently, guides her by the waist and walks her slowly out towards the stairs in front of him. "Best I show you how you drive me to distraction, since you seem determined to find out."

She falters on the stairs, and turns, wide-eyed, not having reckoned on so much, so soon. He reads the flash of panic in her eyes, and strokes her face between his hands. "You trust me?"

"Always."

"Well, downstairs or up, I promise you, I'm still the same." He frowns a gentle smile of understanding. "Want to go back down, Sam? Sit on the settee a while?"

She's on a higher step, and finds she's gazing down into two kindly, grey-flecked pools of blue. She wants to lose herself inside them—and it has to be the strongest feeling of her adult life. She shakes her head in silence, turning round again to climb the stairs.

Behind her, and in certain knowledge now that she's a virgin, Foyle removes the hands that grasped her waist, and mounts each tread, one hand holding the banister, the other braced against the wall in case she stumbles.

When they're standing in his bedroom, he asks her if she's happy with the door closed.

"Yes, oh, yes of course." Sam hovers nervously on the bedside rug, all her bravado gone.

"Sam." He folds her to his chest, and feels her tremble. "Dizzy, still?"

"Dizzy as you like," she jokes, shakily, "but this time I can hardly blame the medicine!"

His eyes seek hers, and hold her gaze. "Wwwant you to know that this is serious for me. There'll be no half-measures. Whatever happens... I shall see to it you're safe."

Perhaps, he thinks, he's warning her away. God knows it would be better for her if she fled now. But every fibre of him aches for honesty—to have the awkward newness of this thing behind them. He wants to carry her beyond the shyness that he senses—bring her over to the comfort of shared intimacy. Enough years have gone to waste, in padding round each other.

"Sit down for a moment." He seats her on the bed and kneels before her, takes her hands in his, and seeks her eyes. "Listen to me, Sam. What I meant to say... to ask..." He screws his eyelids tight, and brings her fingers to his lips. "You could stand to marry me, couldn't you? Otherwise, we have to stop now. I don't want to stop. Do you?"

Sam slowly shakes her head, eyes glowing with the hope he'll kiss her; but Foyle surprises her by reaching round her waist and laying his head in her lap.

Those curls. They've grown luxuriant, she notices. Untamable. She brings her fingers down to stroke them, and she couldn't have imagined them this soft. The whorls of hair lick round her fingers, springing back as they're released. She smiles, and dares to tease. "You've been a stranger at the barber's."

Head pillowed on her thigh, he gives a gentle snort. "I've been preoccupied. Someone invaluable to me has been seriously ill."

"Oh, Christopher. How you must've worried."

Foyle breathes the unmistakeable aroma of excitement and arousal through her cotton layers. And wonders if he's actually hearing 'yes' to his proposal.

"Sam," he presses, "if we're going to do this, I would want to keep you. Wouldn't ever want to lose you. Or to share."

That's it. And now he's laid his feelings bare, he finds his courage fails him, and he doesn't dare to raise his head and look her in the eye.

But then, he feels soft fingers trailing down his cheek, and tilting up his chin. She bends, and kisses him. One kiss, and sweetly.

"Christopher. The answer's 'yes'... to anything and everything you want. Because it's what I've wanted, desperately, too."

...

She wakes, and finds him propped up on an elbow, watching her from under heavy lids. The look's familiar, but previously she's always read it as a sign of wry amusement. Now, with the experience of intimacy behind her, she recognises it as lazy lust.

They've made love twice, each time with him withdrawing at the climax, and she feels a little shy about things still. Not of the act itself. But twice he's played her to the limit and beyond; and now she wonders what he thinks of her, because she's been so vocal in her ecstasy, whereas he's been so quiet in his. He's an enigma; seems to operate on muted tenderness. She wonders what it takes to make a man like this let go and break the habit of restraint—the habit of a lifetime... or of widowhood, perhaps. Sam can't deny that she's a novice in these things, but she's begun to feel an almost ancient wisdom when she's holding him inside her, and she realises now: not only does this give her power, but also a responsibility.

She fidgets. There's a mild discomfort from the unaccustomed stretching. And she's also very sticky. "Christopher, I need..."

He trails his fingertips across her belly. "I know. I'm sorry, Sam. Go carefully. And call me if—"

"I will."

Samantha leans across to taste his lips, and finds herself detained a while. When they break, he reaches underneath the pillow and pulls out a folded cotton jacket, which Sam pulls around her shoulders as she leaves the bed. Though soothed by his attentions, she's still worried that he's so subdued.

Her visit to the bathroom turns into a long communion with the mirror while Sam contemplates the woman who's reflected there—a different being from the girl who met her gaze this morning. She makes the bold decision not to pull the chain, because it saves a little water, and pads silently back across the landing.

Through the open doorway, Sam can see him lying with his forearm thrown across his eyes, as if he's trying to protect them from the light. She pauses to admire the muscles of his upper arm from this new angle, and the shock of hair that nestles in his armpit.

She lingers, of two minds whether she should make her presence known, and while she's standing there, he lets out a long, fragmented, shattered sigh.

"Christopher?" she ventures softly.

Foyle starts. He hasn't heard her, and knows he must be red-eyed underneath his arm.

"Hello, um, Sweetheart." Playing for time, he rolls onto his side away from her, and fumbles with the top drawer of the bedside cabinet.

"Christopher." Sam marches round to his side of the bed, and plants herself before him, hands on hips, pyjama jacket hanging open. "Why are you upset?" she probes, bending closer to examine him.

Denial is pointless. The traces of emotion stain his face.

"I, um..." he swallows, giving her a helpless look. Depression in his personal life has become a ritual since Rosalind, and he's not such a romantic as to think that physical love is anything but fickle. In other words, he's fallen into thinking this is too good to be true.

Sam's not about to be deterred. With a sigh of impatience, she lifts the covers and invades his side, burrowing in against his naked warmth, and forcing him onto his back again.

"I don't understand," she complains. "Am I a disappointment? I can do better... learn." She moves to sit astride him, hands braced on his shoulders. It's completely artless, and it makes him smile.

"Nunno, my love." His hands massage her upper arms. "You mustn't think that's the problem."

"Then what!" she bats at his chest in frustration.

He blinks up at her and asks mildly, "Sam... are you going to stay with me?"

Her eyes widen, and the pitch of her voice rises. "What did I say earlier? I want the same as you! For us, together."

"I just thought, perhaps, after this..." he gestures vaguely at his bare torso, "you'd see what you'd let yourself in for, and regret it."

Sam's eyes close in relief. If this is all that's bothering him...! It's hard for her to understand his diffidence. She has no real experience of other men, but nothing about Christopher Foyle au naturel has left her disappointed: his broad-shouldered, sturdy chest, the well-formed muscles of his legs and arms, even the slight cushioning around his midriff—all these things he wears with the same faultless presentation as he wears his suits. And Sam has always thought he wears those very well.

"What I've seen—and felt," she adds, dragging a finger between his pectorals to the softer flesh around his navel, "makes me feel even more fortunate." She bends forward and plants a beseeching kiss in the spot where his ear joins his neck. It tastes of salt, and smells incredibly male. "Please don't spoil this, Christopher. I want you on every level." She pushes herself up again, and bounces cheerily on his hips, declaiming to the wall, "I mean, I would've thought... I let you hear how wonderful it felt... you have the most fabulous body, and your touch, your touch..."

Sam trails off. Here she is, pouring heart and soul into a hymn of praise to Christopher, telling him she thinks he's the cat's meow, and Christopher is silent. It's annoying. So she adds a barb.

"I wasn't loud enough?" She leans in, mischievously. "Perhaps you're HARD OF HEARING at your age?"

There's a twitch of the Foyle lip as he shifts himself beneath her.

"Wull, thank you, Sam." Pinned underneath her, he has just been treated to a glorious eyeful of perfect breasts, bobbing free under his open pyjama jacket.

"Is this an end to silliness, then?" Sam hears herself, almost schoolmistress-like, lecturing the headboard.

The next instant he has her by the arms and flipped onto her back, so that he's looking down on her, a lopsided smile of satisfaction on his lips.

But Sam hasn't finished with him yet, and carries on complaining to the ceiling. "Frankly, how much reassuring do you need? We've made love twi—"

Foyle seals her mouth with an insistent kiss, and there's the rumble of a low growl in his chest. This is the girl—the woman—who's been tugging at his heart for two years; been on his mind, unhealthily, he's thought, more often than she should have been. Despite the favourable signs from Sam, he has been wary of believing that his rusty lovemaking could possibly delight her long enough to make her really want to give herself to him. Now, she's left him in no doubt, and he can read the sweet devotion in her eyes even after the red mist of passion has cleared. This time, he knows he's going to give his all, and even as his body points the way, a soft wave of relief rolls over him: knowing what she knows, and seeing what she's seen of him today, Samantha Stewart wants to stay.

Beneath him, feeding on the rich, warm rumble of his claim on her, Sam's body seems to liquefy. The tension of their first time, and the careful tutelage of their second become distant memories; and when they pull apart for breath, he tells her she's the loveliest armful that a man could wish for. Sam, with two eerily silent bouts of intimacy behind her, launches back into the kiss with eager lips, believing 'third time lucky''.

Foyle's body should be spent. So much, so close together is unprecedented, but he blames it on the sinuous undulations of the siren beneath him. They're both naked, and every inch of Sam is pressed to every inch of him. And aaah!—he lets out a low cry of pleasure as she arches up—how easily she makes those inches grow. He takes his weight onto his forearms, drawing back to feed his desire by gazing down on her. Those sandy freckles peppering her delicate shoulders—have they multiplied since last time? Foyle frees a hand and traces an invisible line from ginger fleck to ginger fleck.

"Look," he plots a trail that makes her shiver, "here's the Big Dipper. And we could make Orion if you had another smaller freckle here."

"O Lord! Not astronomy!" She beams under the sensation of his featherlight attentions, then adds sagely, "Hope you won't waste your time looking for Virgo."

Foyle's brows knit briefly. This is not a joke he wants to hear her make. He places a soft kiss on her brow. "Sweetheart. Thank you for your precious gift. Don't think I take it lightly."

His finger comes to rest above the swell of her right breast, and their eyes meet, steady and unflinching. Sam's issuing an invitation, and he takes it, moving his attentions to the milk-and-honey orb, and lingering to suckle on the rosebud of her nipple.

"Sam," he mumbles, blowing gently on the wetness left behind. "Perfect. You are perfect."

She lets out a sharp gasp, and the soft pink bud becomes a tiny pillar. It's the soft enticement that he needs, and soon his palm is wrapped around the perfect petite fullness of her breast, his thumb stroking the small, hard peak.

His lips fall to her neck, and he pauses only to guide her hand to press against his hardness. This is new to Sam, and fascinates her. Previously, although this part of him has been inside her, he hasn't asked for this. Such a strange, yet natural sensation to be filled; she's eager now to learn the art of touching. The pulsing warmth of him beneath her hand is the first thing she notices. The second is the silken, fragile-seeming, but deceptively elastic skin—more delicate, she fancies, than her eyelids. The dryness to the touch of his erect shaft surprises her, and when she says as much, he wants to know how she imagined it would feel.

"Well... " she bites her lip, nervous of offending him, "sort of slimy, I suppose. Like one imagines snakes."

He stifles a smile. "Snakes are dry, Sam."

"Mmm," she admits. "I do realise that. I s'pose it's a prejudice one has."

"Good swimmers, though," he adds, leaning in to nuzzle her ear, and is rewarded with a "Christopher!", a giggle and a playful nudge.

Sam practises arousing him, gently at first, then more firmly, following his guidance to the most sensitive spot just where the foreskin knits, and soon she finds that snakes are gifted with their own supply of balm, and Christopher is gifted with a voice entirely capable of expressing helpless pleasure.

Sam smiles serenely over her task. It's what she's hoped for all along—to hear him call out in this way.

Christopher can feel the pressure building inside him. "Oh God, my darling. Steady. Mustn't tip me—aaah!—no, mustn't tip me over or I'll be no good to y—"

Sam's hand slides underneath his testicles and cups their vulnerable warmth, letting her fingernails trail lightly through the soft veil of hair.

"Tsss!" He sucks in a breath, and Sam reads it as an invitation to step up the pace. Wrapping her fingers round his rigid shaft, she strokes up the length of him and over the engorged head, fascinated by the beads of moisture that continue to appear.

Christopher gives a whimper and stays her hand. He knows that he can't take much more of this if he's to keep himself reined in.

"Oh..." she falters, "you didn't like...?" The head of his member has taken on an almost angry, reddish-purple hue, and she wonders if that means he's sore.

"Nunno. On the contrary. Liked it too much, Love. Stop a moment."

A glow of pride suffuses her. It's the heady, sweet discovery of being able to pleasure him in this way—of realising that she holds him, quite literally, in the palm of her hand.

Their foreheads touch, and Sam peers shyly up at him. His eyes are closed, the lashes fanning on his cheeks, and once again it hits her, all the times she's longed for him this way: the times she's seen him, head bowed, studying his notes—and what it used to do to her. Arousal blossoms as a rush of moisture from her core—and somehow, she can sense this time is going to be entirely perfect.

"Let me..." He takes her palm—the one that has caressed him—and urges it around his neck. Sam's fingers lace into his curls, while he coasts down to stroke the soft dip of her waist and trail his fingers lovingly over the gentle swell of hip. And somewhere in his brain—the corner where he stores the faces of the people that he holds most dear, he welcomes in the image of Samantha.

But easing out the old is not without its ache; and as he tries to damp the pain of a goodbye, a tear wells underneath his lashes.

Sam sees it, and she lets her fingers ghost across his face, cooing soft words of comfort as she traces eyebrows, jaw and nose. "Darling, talk to me?"

"It's nothing. Just a fleeting thing. You make me happy, Sam."

She reaches down, caresses him and asks to share that happiness now.

He slides inside her, and can feel her blossoming around him, opening to him with more than just her body. Her legs are limber as he brings one up around his hip. Sam copies with the other leg. The more she lifts, the deeper he sinks into her, till finally he's buried to the hilt.

He wants to tell her what it's like for him. "Oh God, Sweetheart. You've no idea..."

"...how wonderful it feels?"

It feels the same for Sam—she's let him know this in the throes of ecstasy before; but now she wants to hear his side. "Tell me... tell me, Darling," she presses him, between soft moans of pleasure.

This is their third time, and the edge is off. This time, less frantic, more relaxed, more loving. It's a slow and tender build to climax for them both.

This time she grasps his hips as he prepares to leave her. "Stay with me. Don't... please... Christopher... oh God! Don't go..."

"I promised... said I'd keep you safe!" He doesn't dare move, or he's going to explode inside her.

"Always... going... to be safe... with you. Don't go." Sam grips him desperately with every muscle in her body.

That instant of her inner squeeze undoes him. "Come with me... Sam!... can't go... don't want... without you... can't go anywhere—"

And he's gone, in one last volley of frenetic thrusts that send her rocketing to her completion.

"Oh, my sweet love." She throbs around him as he sobs his powerful release, the new-found bloom of warmth inside her spreading with the shudders of her body.

...

It's almost dark now, and her head is cradled on his arm when she awakes. She has an inkling he's been studying her while she's slept, for there he is again, propped on one elbow, eyes replete with tenderness.

Sam isn't one to let such moments pass unmarked. She prods him for a compliment.

"Christopher, I think you love me, just a little."

Oh, he could easily fall prey to this and let her wrap him round her little finger. What's a man to do? Roll over and be putty in her hands? He has to put up some resistance.

"Wull, I... admire you... I respect you... cherish and desire you. If you want to call it love... Mmmwell..." he teases, "I s'pose..."

"How much?" Sam ignores the ribbing; snuggles closer, smiling into the soft tickle of his chest.

The crinkles deepen round his eyes. "D'you know your Shakespeare, Sam?" It's Rosalind he has to thank. Her admiration of the Bard pushed Andrew into poetry, and went so far as to infect her husband.

Sam frowns. "Not very well. We did a couple of old plays at school."

"Which ones?"

"Um... As You Like It, aaand... can't quite... Oh, yes!" she beams against the gentle rise and fall of his ribs. "We did King Lear. A gloomy sort of play with extra misery thrown in."

His tongue creeps to his cheek. "Now, how can you say that? Lear's such a favourite." He lifts his hand in mock supplication. "'Love, and be silent'. 'I cannot heave my heart into my mouth'."

If Sam will only raise her head, she'll see the teasing in his eyes.

Instead, she fidgets. She wants words—needs them from this lovely man who uses them so sparingly.

"Oh, don't make fun of me," she pleads. "I already know you're clever."

His hand tilts up her chin. Their eyes meet. In his clear, blue orbs she reads more words of love than she can ever hope to hear. But Christopher won't have her disappointed. If she wants words, he can find her some. Why not from As You Like It?

"'Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?'" he whispers, and he takes her lips with slow, deliberate tenderness, remembering the day she blew the cobwebs from his life, and wound herself around his heart.

FIN

More Author's Notes:

"Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?"

Shakespeare's As You Like It (Act III, Scene V, 82) is a quotation from Christopher Marlowe's poem, Hero and Leander.

...

"Now, how can you say that? Lear's such a favourite."

Michael Kitchen plays the part of Edmund the 'Illegitimate' in the 1982 Jonathan Miller televised production of King Lear. Suffice to say that Edmund is a bastard in more than one sense, and Mr K is rather delicious in the role.

...

He calmly sprinkles salt onto the slices of tomato

King Lear is based on the story Coat (or Cap) of Rushes which tells of a girl banished from her father's sight when she tells him that she loves him "as meat loves salt". Destitute, she later creeps back into his household in the guise of a kitchen maid, and sees to it that his food is served without salt. Her father sits down to his meal, and once he has begun to eat, he weeps. :o)

GiuC